Thursday, March 6, 2008

Comment: Defending FALN Pardons?!

In an editorial piece in today's Los Angles Times entitled, "The Times' Joe McCarthy," Karin Pally (don't even ask me!) attempts to take Jonah Goldberg to task for a number of things. I noticed that, in the process, she had this to say:

Goldberg then moves on to the Clintons, claiming that Bill Clinton pardoned Puerto Rican "separatist terrorists" and that this action was "perceived" as a way to gain votes for Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. Who were these terrorists and what did they do? The prisoners were members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation. None of these prisoners had been convicted of bombings or violent offenses, and all had served 14 years or longer in prison, longer than the time usually served for such crimes. No one from the FALN was pardoned. Instead, 16 prisoners had their sentences commuted. In contrast, President Bush commuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's sentence before he had served a single day.

Those familiar with the FALN pardons recognize most of the above as nothing more than a re-hash of President Clinton's own public defense for his exceptionally poor decision making. But it is fun, nonetheless to consider the manner in which the author implodes and circumvents critical information to make her case.

Goldberg, for example, is quite correct to note that President Clinton exercised the pardon power on behalf of the FALN terrorists. A commutation of sentence is but one form of what we commonly refer to as "the pardon power." There are several others. If, on the other hand, Ms. Pally desires to wax highly technical (for the sake of looking more expert, accurate or truthful), then she should recognize that President Clinton did not commute the sentences. It is more accurate (and truthful) to say that the prisoners accepted a conditional commutation of sentence.

Pally sheepishly asks, Who were these people? What did they do? I think perhaps the Department of Justice and the federal judiciary answered that question best when the group was convicted of - among other things - possession of unregistered firearms, conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery, interference with interstate commerce by violence and threats of violence, conspiracy to make destructive devices, unlawful storage of explosives, conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to kill and injure people, and conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property.

But Pally seems satisfied that none of these charges and convictions warrant our concern because, in her mind, they were not "violent offenses" ... you know, the types of offenses that were never ever formally, officially, legally attached to Al Capone either.

It is no wonder that a different opinion of the matter was held by the U.S. pardon attorney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Prisons, the police commissioner of New York and United States attorneys in Illinois and Connecticut, Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, Sen. Patrick Leahy (the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee) Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Charles E. Schumer. But perhaps they were all unduly influenced by a Newsweek report that the Bureau of Prisons (which rarely gets involved in clemency decisions) had audio tapes of some of the prisoners saying that they would employ violence once again if they were released.

Let us not forget that, on September 9, 1999, the House of Representatives voted 311 to 41 to condemn the President’s FALN clemency and, five days later, the Senate voted 95 to 2 on a similar resolution calling Clinton’s use of the pardoning power “deplorable.” Congress also subpoenaed Clinton to turn over all records relating to the F.A.L.N. decision, but the President refused to comply with the request on the ground of “executive privilege.” And with good reason! Hillary's campaign might still be cleaning up after the mess today!

See the full L.A. Times editorial here.

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